Book Review: This Mortal Coil

I never called myself a sci-fi person. I didn’t watch Star Wars or Star Trek as a kid, didn’t get into Metroid Prime or War of the Worlds. I was much more taken with fantasy. When it gets right down to it, I suppose I just liked magic as a plot element more than technology.

But. I read This Mortal Coil, a YA science fiction debut, last week. And I was floored.

this mortal coil

Author Emily Suvada uses her extensive knowledge of biology, coding, chemistry, and genetics to craft a not-so-far future world in This Mortal Coil. Catarina is a hacker and geneticist, living alone in the woods after a horrifying virus has killed a majority of the North American population. The only geneticist who could have hoped to make a vaccine for the disease—Cat’s father—was kidnapped and then killed. The virus is airborne, and the only way to become immune is to eat the flesh of an infected individual. (I’m not sure how the science checks out here, but it’s kind of cool? Like reverse zombies.)

But that’s not the worst part! The worst part is—wait, look at the book cover. Can you guess what I’m going to say? The worst part is, the virus turns infected individuals into time bombs. They eventually explode into a gruesome cloud of red mist, spreading the virus (it’s airborne, remember?) to any nearby unfortunates. It’s horrifying, it’s disgusting, and it’s so good.

It’s been a while since I’ve run the YA circuit, so I’m a little behind on the popular tropes and trends. For what it’s worth, though, I can’t remember the last time I saw a character like Cat front and center. She’s intelligent, geeky, unashamedly talented, quick on her feet, and full of grit. And sometimes she fails. I found her realistic and inspiring, and I hope teenage girls—especially those interested in pursuing STEM careers—look up to her as a role model.

This Mortal Coil is 415 pages of fast-paced, relentless plot twists and high-tension scenes. I was completely sucked in, breathless, and read it in full over the course of a single day. When I finished, I wanted to read it all over again. I’m known to reread books, but never on repeat, so to speak—it was a new experience for me.

The fun doesn’t stop when you finish reading, though. Suvada has crafted an engaging social media platform on Twitter and her website. And she’s left secrets for her dedicated fans. In the book, Cat finds a sequence of DNA in a mutated pigeon that looks like a poem. She doesn’t decode the full thing, but the entire poem is in the back of the book, ready for inquiring minds to crack. The poem isn’t the only thing you can decode, by the way….You’ll have to find the other secrets for yourself!

A fantastic debut, This Mortal Coil will surely be heralded as a YA sci-fi classic in the years to come. Book 2 is already in the works! Buy This Mortal Coil at Powell’s or on Amazon.

Awesome. Original. Stunning. And yes, “unputdownable.” 5/5

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